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Like any other business, dentists in Australia can promote their services to people in their local community by setting up a website and social media accounts on the big platforms like Facebook.
However, most other businesses are not subject to the same strict advertising laws that dentists and other health providers are.
In Australia, all online and offline advertising related to dental services must comply with the guidelines of industry regulators and legislation. Depending on the services your clinic offers, these authorities may include:
- Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)
- Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
- Australian Consumer Law (ACL)
- Dental Board of Australia
- Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA)
These regulations are designed to help keep the public safe from false or misleading claims about health services, and to help them make informed choices about their healthcare.
Failure to comply with these regulations is a statutory offence and can be punished with fines and other penalties if the problem is not resolved.
According to the latest AHPRA annual report, 239 statutory offence complaints were made about dental practices in 2016–17. The overwhelming majority of these were advertising breaches.
Who does this apply to?
If you own, manage or advertise for a dental practice, you need to make sure that your websites, social media accounts and other online or print advertising you produce all comply with advertising regulations. This involves knowing what is and isn’t permitted.
The reality is that most dentists fail to comply with these laws, which could lead to complaints if a patient or other member of the public feels they were misled and decides to take action.
A review of 266 dental clinics in New South Wales published in the Australian Dental Journal in 2017 found that 71% were in breach of the National Law when promoting their services on Facebook. The overall level of compliance was found to be poor.
What does a breach involve?
If your clinic’s website or marketing materials are found to be in breach of industry guidelines, this could mean that they either:
- make false or misleading claims
- offer a gift, discount or other incentive without explaining the terms and conditions
- include testimonials from patients (solicited or unsolicited)
- create unreasonable expectations of a successful outcome from treatments
- encourage the unnecessary use of treatments or services
- use prohibited specialist titles or endorsements
This doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about the treatments you offer and their benefits. However, you must be able to back up any health claims you make.
If you’re writing about a more invasive procedure, such as dental implants or wisdom teeth removal, you must include details of the possible risks and other ‘negative’ information to make sure you’re giving a balanced overview.
If your clinic also offers cosmetic services, such as teeth whitening, veneers or anti-wrinkle injections and fillers, these are subject to even stricter guidelines and must be written about with great care.
What are the penalties?
If any of your clinic’s online or print advertising is found to be in breach of the National Law, you will have 60 days to address the issue and to make sure all of your other advertising is fully compliant. At the end of this period, a full audit will be made of all your clinic’s materials to check for any further breaches.
If you are found to still be in breach of the law, this could lead to prosecution and a penalty of $5,000 per offence (for individuals) or $10,000 per offence (for a body corporate). The National Board may also choose to place restrictions on your registration.
How to avoid these penalties
You can still advertise your practice online and in print, as long as your written and visual content complies with these regulations. This means that whoever is writing your websites, blogs, social media updates and other marketing materials should have a thorough and detailed knowledge of these laws, and what can and can’t be said.
If you’re not sure whether your existing website and social media accounts may be in breach of advertising laws, you can seek legal advice or hire a digital marketing agency with specialised experience writing for dental clinics in your area.
Civic Web Media works with dental clinics in Newcastle, Sydney and throughout Australia, writing websites, blogs, print advertising and social media posts in line with the latest industry guidelines. We’ll help you to advertise your services without breaking the rules.
Contact us today to find out how we can help your practice.